Q&A with author K. Elliott
Give us the tl;dr of your life.
How to not quit at life.
Which famous author’s work would you say your writing style resembles the most?
This has got to be the hardest question ever only because I’ve stolen from so many different writers. My very first creative writer’s workshop, the guy running the workshop thought Hemingway was the gold standard. And he is an exceptional writer, and so he measured most of our writing by how Hemingway would write. Still, we all know there will probably never be another Hemingway, and I have no intention of writing literary fiction.
When I became more well-read, I found other writers I enjoyed like Danielle Steel, E Lynn Harris, Elmore Leonard, Walter Mosely. So I would say I write a lot like Leonard. Not saying I’m as good as Leonard. In my opinion, nobody is, but I just love his style. He was the first writer I read that head-hops seamlessly. So I started head-hopping, and I’ve gotten quite good at it. This is not something everyone can do right.
Do you have a specific culture or part of the world you tend to write about?
Yes, African American ghetto life; not Cosby, because that was not my life experience. I write this because I know the audience, not necessarily because I want to write it, but it pays the bills. Or so it was before COVID-19. LOL.
Do you have a day job, other than being a writer?
No, not at the time, but if this economy doesn’t get back on track, I may be washing dishes—I’m not too proud to work. But I publish my material mostly. I have had a couple of books published by the majors, but I do it on my own for the most part. So that means running a business and right now, business is terrible. LOL. The fact that I write for a living makes it more urgent that I do it or I don’t eat.
If you could have done something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would it have been?
I would have studied harder in school and appreciated school more. Looking back, I think I was reasonably smart, and I was in advanced classes until the eighth grade, and something happened where I no longer cared.
Have you ever collaborated with, or accepted writing or editing help from, other writers?
I’ve collaborated, and others have edited my material.
How did it impact your style?
I see no harm in letting another writer edit your work because you become very close to your work, and it takes a fresh set of eyes that doesn’t have an invested interest to say, “hey this sucks.” It hurts, but most of the time, they are right. And at the end of the day, you want the project to come out as polished as possible.
How do you think your writing style has changed over the years?
I believe in the beginning, I was overly descriptive. Describing every outfit my characters wore. Detailing the inside of homes. One of my writing mentors said, “Kevin, do you want to be a writer or an interior decorator?” As a reader, I don’t give a damn what kind of sofa they are sitting on. A lot of my earlier work I don’t read. I’m so embarrassed by it. But writing is just like driving: you don’t learn how to do it until you do it.
If you had to rewrite any of your poems or stories, which one would you choose?
Entangled, it was my very first book, one of the most successful books but poorly written. The story luckily was strong, but the writing was horrible.
What would you change?
I would just change the description of the characters, and I would have possibly developed them more. Why? It was just amateurish.
What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
Getting started. I have the most challenging time with the story’s setting and what point in the story I should start. How much backstory to add if I need it at all. Do I need to add a prologue?
How important is research to you when writing a book or story?
Not too much. Of course, there are parts of the stories that need research, but I try not to get bogged down in research. I use my creative license a lot. Right now, I am working on a project where I don’t even say the name of the city where the story takes place. It’s not necessary. When I first started, I didn’t know you could do that.
What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?
The hardest thing is tying all the loose ends at the end of a piece of work. It is like putting a puzzle together.
What’s the easiest?
The easiest is dialogue. I am a self-proclaimed master of dialogue. I like listening to people talk. And I pay attention to the words or vernacular they use. I think it is so fascinating that people can describe the same thing and use different language to describe.
If you could have been the original author of any book, poem, or story, what would it have been?
“Facing It,” a poem by Yusef Komunyakaa.
Is there anything you would have changed?
This poem is just perfect and beautiful, and he uses language so masterfully, and the images are so vivid. I wouldn’t change a thing. It is perfect.
What are common traps or mistakes for aspiring writers in your genre?
Being a hack and not caring about the work. There’s just so much wrong I don’t even want to go there. Honestly, I’ve aged out of that genre, and I don’t want to sound like the old man yelling get off my lawn.
Is there a genre or style of writing that you can’t stand?
Not really, I’m a fan of most fiction.
Tell us about your latest book or writing project.
The newest project is a YA project for African American boys, particularly those that don’t fit in. Kind of nerdy kids that are just trying to find their way and I’m hoping it helps them understand that it’s okay to be different.
What’s the most difficult thing for you about writing characters from, or in the voice of, the opposite sex?
Honestly, I didn’t have that problem until this present work, which happens to be a YA project, and I just found it challenging to describe teen girls without sounding like a creep. I love everything about women, and I love describing women’s beauty and sex appeal, but I can’t do that when describing a teen as a middle-aged man without sounding like Epstein or R. Kelly. LOL.
What is the main thing you want readers to take away from the book?
Well, the project is different than anything I’ve ever done. The characters aren’t gritty. They are just three teen boys facing the everyday challenges of being a teenager. They just happen to be smart kids living in the Hood. So I guess if there were something I’d want people to take away, there are intelligent people everywhere, and there are different kinds of intelligence. Intellect for one person may be being genius at math, and for another group of people, it may be survival.
If you could pick one author, living or dead, to critique or review your latest work, who would it be?
Rodney Hosford: he’d authored only one book before he passed away. He taught me everything I know and gave me the confidence to write a novel. I met him when I was about twenty-seven, and he was about fifty. Though he’d written only one book, he was such a craftsman of the written word. I’d want him to say, “Kevin, you were paying attention in my workshop.” LOL.
Do you feel it’s most important to have strong characters, mind-blowing plot twists or epic settings?
I think strong characters are essential. You want to get your audience invested in your characters, and you want to show the different dimensions of their personalities. Someone once said that even the worst human thinks that he/she is good and that it is true. So even when you’re writing a villain, I believe it is essential to show humanity in the villain.
Do you want each of your books to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each project?
I want them to stand on their own, but it is not uncommon for me to pull a character from one series and let them make a cameo in another series.
If someone is brand-new to your work, which book do you think they should start with?
Let’s start at the beginning, but please read at least three books to see the progression. My first book was called Entangled. Start there and then read the very last and then go back and read what’s in the middle. I know it sounds weird, but I think so many times we read one book by an author and say, “oh this person is trash,” but I’ve read evil work by Stephen King, and he is one of my faves.
Do your stories carry a message?
They do, but you will have to read them to find out. LOL
How much of yourself do you put into your plots or characters?
Hardly any direct experiences nowadays. A lot of my philosophy on life, which some would say is B.S. But I think every aspect is me in some way or another as with every writer, whether the experience is something they’ve lived or dreamt about.
Have you ever written about a dream or a nightmare?
I’ve never written about a dream, but I have closed plot holes in dreams. Weirdest thing is, sometimes I can be trying to figure out how I’m going to finesse a scene and can’t, then it’ll come to me in a dream. I’ve had some great plot twists that have come to me during dreams.
Thanks so much for participating in this Q&A!
You’re welcome. I’m glad you asked me to participate. It was my pleasure.